Irrigators angry at proposed cuts

As many as 130,000 jobs could be lost because of reduced water allocations in Victoria’s fruit bowl region under the Murray-Darling Basin plan, a farmer says.

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The draft plan recommends an overall cut to water allocations of between 27 and 34 per cent to protect the health of the river system, with an estimated 800 jobs to be lost in the process.

The first of 22 community consultations, held in the northeast Victorian city of Shepparton in the heart of the Goulburn Valley’s fruit-growing area, heard that the federal government’s guide to the plan has vastly under-estimated the resulting job losses.

Third-generation farmer Kevin Sutton, who runs cattle and sheep on 1100 acres in Stanhope, calculates the figure at around 130,000 jobs based on productivity netted from basin farming and associated business across affected communities.

“There’s not too many people in this hall today who are very keen in parting with the water they’ve got,” Mr Sutton told the meeting. “You cannot have this region close down because of some smart decisions made by a group who have not been given any authority by the people of this region.

“It will close down a lot of towns totally because you have to have a critical mass to make a town operate.

“A critical mass is what drives the whole region.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Naringaningalook irrigator Peter Schwarz, who said the socio-economic impacts of any reductions “are more important than everything else in this debate”.

“I think with the millions of dollars you guys have at your fingertips you should have gone out and done a lot more work, interviewed people … gone to the dairy companies and found out what the impacts of this is going to be,” he said.

“It’s just a really poor show that we have to come here and discuss something like this which has clearly got so many flaws in it.”

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Mike Taylor said the job losses were modelled on basin-wide projections and the 800 figure was probably inappropriate.

“The models are on the table to be questioned,” he told the meeting.

Mr Taylor said he expected to speak with federal Water Minister Tony Burke and point out the social and economic concerns of northern Victorian communities affected by the proposed cuts.